The Winter Blues (SAD)

SAD Light Therapy

Have you ever felt depressed in the winter?  Do you find yourself sleeping and eating more?  You are not alone.  You could be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in season — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.

In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. However, some people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

We don’t know the exact cause of SAD but it is believed that some factors may contribute to it:

  • The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. The decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and lead to feelings of depression.
  • A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Physicians traditionally treat SAD with light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications. Other alternative medicine treatments may include:

  • Supplements – St. John’s wort, SAMe, Melatonin and Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Mind-body therapies – Acupuncture, Yoga, Exercise, Meditation, Guided Imagery and Massage therapy.
  • Lifestyle and home remedies – Make your home and/or office sunnier and brighter.  Get outside and take a walk (especially within two hours of getting up in the morning). Soak up the sun.  Exercise regularly.  It helps you relieve stress and anxiety.  When you are more fit you feel better about yourself which will lift your mood.

I am not big on taking supplements and try to get what I need from foods.  Here are the minerals and vitamins that help relieve the symptoms of depression and the foods that contain them:

  • Folate – Asparagus, Lentils, Peas, Salad Greens
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Fatty fish, Shellfish
  • Tryptophan – Bananas, Dairy products, Peas, Poultry
  • Vitamin B– Bananas, Peas, Potatoes
  • Vitamin B12 – Dairy products, Fatty fish, Shellfish, Poultry

My first choice to fight the symptoms of SAD would be alternative medicines like exercise and diet.  Make sure you get outside during the day and get some sunlight.  Depression is not something to ignore. If these are not helping, you need to see your doctor.

Holly Kouvo is a certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Specialist, speaker and writer who specializes in helping people lose hundreds of pounds. Learn more at

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